Shall we start with some culture? There are three don’t-misses, in my view. First, after a lazy breakfast, get to the Leach Pottery as it opens at 10am (11am on Sundays). Maybe drive or catch a bus, as it’s on Higher Stennack, a steep 15-minute walk out of town. But it’s worth the trip: founded in 1920, it’s only the most influential studio pottery in the world; the exhibits (unaltered workrooms in particular) are fascinating, and the shop is full of top notch ceramics. Then park up in town (place your hopes in the parking fairy and with luck you’ll find somewhere – St Ives is notorious for parking problems) and leave the car for the day. Because next it’s the Tate – a Modernist building with fab views, a great caff on the top floor and, oh yes, some pretty interesting art. And then wander round to the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden (it’s cheaper if you get a joint ticket with entrance to the Tate), all-too-often missed as it’s tucked a bit out of the way on Barnoon Hill, but a really, really lovely place to chill out. Babs’s sculptures aren’t bad, either.
Right, culture done. Check. Since it’s lunchtime, grab a fresh crab sarnie at The Digey Food Room, one of the nicest places to eat in St Ives (which is packed with nice places to eat – I personally love a pasty from St Ives Bakery, while the refurbed Queen’s Hotel does excellent pub food and I’ve heard good things about The Cornish Deli). Word of warning – if you decide to eat a takeout by the sea, watch out for pesky seagulls who will divebomb you for a morsel of food. Not fun.
Rested and recuperated, it’s time to shop. Yay! At last. We’ll avoid the chain stores (yawn, what’s the point?) with the exception of mini Cornish chain Seasalt, a family-run business which sells great-looking organic clothing and accessories. They’re in Fore Street, the main drag in St Ives, and while you’re there check out the Trelyon Gallery for contemporary designer jewellery; Atlantic for chunky wool jerseys; Calico for Orla Kiely and cool, colourful kitchenalia; Fabulous Kids, a truly fabulous store for kids’ clothes, toys and gifts; and Hudson Art where, among a delicious selection of quirky crafts and gifts you’ll find those irresistible Maileg rabbits, aw.
Now that we’re talking art and craft I have to remind you that St Ives is, of course, famous for its artistic heritage; even on the quickest stroll you can’t fail to notice the sheer number of galleries selling paintings, prints, sculptures, photography and craft. My personal faves include the recently refurbished New Craftsman, the Belgrave, the Porthminster, the Waterside, Westcotts and Wills Lane – the quality of what they sell is awe-inspiring. If you’re keen on art, you’ll want to set aside another whole day for the St Ives galleries alone, or maybe even book yourself onto a course at the renowned School of Painting.
But back to shopping… and it really is time to discover some gems that are ever-so-slightly off that beaten track. Just around the corner from Fore Street, for example, you’ll find the renovated Drill Hall, which houses a delightful selection of shops including Poppy Treffry (funky appliquéd tea cosies and the like), Favela (bright, personalised hoodies), the Birds of a Feather lifestyle boutique and Cornwall Soap Box. At the bottom of nearby Bedford Road there’s Gypsy Gabriel, for fashionable furniture, lighting and accessories, including vintage pieces, or walk up Tregenna Hill (it’s not far) to Betty Boyns, a teeny weeny shop that sells lovely vintage-inspired fabric, prints, cards and accessories. And while we’re talking vintage, now’s the time to walk down Skidden Hill and check out Beaten Green, a rather excellent vintage boutique and, in Street an Pol to the left, Tremayne Applied Arts, home to groovy baby 20th century design classics.
Stroll to the far side of the wharf, grabbing a stripey fisherman’s top from the Fisherman’s Co-op on the way, then go round the in a circle to find cute Fish Pi Pottery and then back down the Digey to Fore Street once again. But wait – did I hear you say you needed a snack to keep you going on this shopping frenzy? Well, you’ve just walked past the Parisian-style Chocolat! on the Digey, and once in Fore Street simply turn right to find The Cornish Candy Shoppe, selling Cornish-made fudge, rock and other yummy stuff (try their butter tablet, it’s unbelievable) or keep going to I Should Coco, where chocolate is made on site by artisan chocolatiers. Double back towards the little beach at the harbour and you’ll come to Moomaid Ice Cream, another local product that’s deliciously irresistible. Slurp.
And… relax. That’s it – you’ve done St Ives. A whistlestop tour that’s left you full up, totally culture vultured, shopped out and, hopefully, hugely impressed with this postcard-pretty little town. Have I missed anything out? Please let us know on the comments form below … .